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One Stop center opens to aid homeless

BRADENTON - Promise made, promise delivered.

Bradenton’s One Stop Resource Center to help the homeless move from poverty to self-sufficiency has opened. The official ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for Saturday.

The newly remodeled facility at 701 17th Ave. W., the former Mather Furniture Store, is the fulfillment of a promise made seven years ago by the Community Coalition on Homelessness to bring health services, social services, a soup kitchen, clothing and employment counseling under one roof.

“That’s the beauty of the new center, we have counselors who can help people identify their needs and then shepherd them through all of the services available,” said Adell Erozer, the coalition’s executive director.

From the light switches which come on and off with sensors to the new state-of-the-art water heaters, the building is equipped to be energy efficient. “We have made this building as green as our budget would allow,” Erozer said.

Ronald Parkhurst, who has been homeless for more than a year after the local auto parts supply company he worked for suddenly closed, was amazed last week when stopped by for help finding a job.

“This new building is really beautiful, it’s like a Ramada Inn,” Parkhurst said as he sat on a donated church pew under ceiling fans on a covered patio.

Parkhurst was waiting his turn to see a volunteer counselor with Open Door, one of a myriad of agencies that will ultimately be housed in the 17,000-square-foot center. Run by the coalition and developed through the support of the League of Women Voters, the Open Door provides day resource services for the homeless, including assistance with obtaining legal identification, benefits, job referrals as well as showers and a laundry service run by volunteers. Until Tuesday, the Open Door had operated out of a tiny room at Manatee Glens Walk-In Treatment Center on 14th Street West.

“Those new showers are really great,” said Parkhurst, who was just as impressed with the adjacent laundry facility with its brand new industrial-size washers and dryers. Nearby stood a large clothing closet, complete with filing cabinets holding underwear, socks and personal hygiene items, all distributed free of charge.

“The people here are a team,” Parkhurst said. “They really put their hearts into helping the homeless. They revive your spirits. They are all God’s children to me.”

In the near future, Parkhurst and other One Stop clients will have access to health care services in the new medical wing. Jim Little, a retired Bradenton dentist, is overseeing the design and installation of two dental treatment rooms that are being furnished with equipment donated by area dentists.

“We have had so much support from local dentists who gave us chairs, lights, and X-ray equipment to equip two rooms,” said Little, who will offer his services one day a week when the clinic opens. Other dentists have volunteered, and Little hopes to have enough staff to run the clinic two or three days a week.

“The need is tremendous,” Little said. “We will be doing a lot of preventative care, teeth cleaning and dental education as well as taking care of toothaches.”

Talks are under way with We Care Inc., Manatee Rural Health Services, the Lake Erie Medical College and area physicians to work out staffing arrangements for the medical clinic, Erozer said.

Within the next few weeks, Our Daily Bread, the all-volunteer soup kitchen supported by several area churches, will move into the new commercial kitchen complete with convection ovens, walk-in freezers, a large pantry and food preparation area next to a dining room that can seat 250.

One side of a large multipurpose room will house a “Web Cafe” offering volunteer-assisted computer access to apply for federal assistance, resume preparation, online job searches and e-mail service on eight Dell computers.

Project Heart, the school district’s program for homeless students, and the Whole Child Project, which provides parents with an individualized plan to access health and social services to meet their children’s needs, also will have satellite offices in the new center.

Other agencies partnering with the coalition to provide services include Manatee Community Action Agency, Family Promise/Interfaith Hospitality Network, Bridge of Hope, Family Resources, Veterans Services, Jobs ETC, Goodwill, the Florida Department of Children and Families and Manatee County Health Department. The goal, said Erozer, is to provide coordinated wrap-around services streamlined through a centralized intake system that will improve access and eliminate duplication.

Local developer Lee Martin, a coalition board member, has been a familiar face during the $3.2 million renovation of the old furniture store.

“I have lived here for the last six months,” Martin joked as he described the task of overseeing the construction phase completed by National Development Corp.

“Lee has been unbelievable,” Erozer said. “We couldn’t have done it without him.”

Nor would the center be a reality without the hundreds of volunteers and businesses who have donated time, materials and support, Erozer said.

While commitment has remained strong over the years, challenges along the way at times threatened to derail the project.

Not everyone in the business community was pleased with the idea of a central campus to serve the homeless. At the same time the coalition was moving ahead with One Stop plans, the city of Bradenton and business leaders were working on projects to redevelop 14th Street West. Many of those leaders saw the removal of Our Daily Bread and the Day Resource Center, then housed in the back room of the soup kitchen, as critical to the realization of those plans.

In June 2004, a community summit on homelessness, called by then-county Commissioner Pat Glass, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, then-Palmetto Mayor Larry Bustle and Mary Ruiz of Manatee Glens proved to be a major catalyst pushing the One Stop project forward. By bringing all of the players together, business leaders as well as homeless advocates, common ground was established and a 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness in Manatee County was begun.

In December 2005, the Bradenton City Council, with Michele Weaver casting the deciding vote, gave official sanction to the project. The city of Bradenton as well as Manatee County helped fund the project.

Everybody has won, said Ruiz. The coalition got its One Stop Center, and business city officials and developers revamping 14th Street got their wish to move Our Daily Bread and the Open Door Day Resource Center to the new location. Those moves allowed the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority this year to buy those properties and create a parcel attractive for business development.

“This is one project that proves when you have a total community effort, regardless of their own turf or services, you can get something done,” Glass said. “Agencies and leaders saw the merit of coming together to create the One Stop Center. This takes a terrible burden off of the cities and counties.”

So many people and organizations played pivotal roles in making the center a reality, that it would take an enormous flow chart to show how the project evolved.

“I just know that when we hit a snag, when we needed something to be done, when we needed contributions, they would appear right when we needed them,” said Erozer.

“When you add it all up together it is a beautiful story of community helping community,” said Ruiz. “Adell is the centerpiece who did the hard management work. She is the one who wrote the grants, saw it through and pulled all of the services together.”

But Glass is quick to point out that the One Stop Center is ongoing project far from finished. There is still $500,000 to raise to pay off the $3.2 million construction project. More volunteers and grants are needed to keep services running.

“We all have to stay tuned to this project, leaders, the community, churches, all of us,” Glass said. “This is just the beginning.”